In the summer of 2005 I visited the Andean Highlands and was struck by the common use of alpaca wool. Fabrics made from alpaca are soft and lush and are used by native peoples throughout the high country of South America. But pure alpaca wool is fragile; most garments I saw in Peru were decorative and did not look like they would be up to our standards for backcountry use. At the Outdoor Retailer show in January 2007 I met with the team at Indigenous Designs to look at their all natural blended fabrics that utilize alpaca wool extensively. They have devised a fabric with 3 components - merino wool, alpaca wool and tencel. The Terra Sport line of sweaters is specifically designed for high performance outdoor use. Over the past 7 months I have put these sweaters through all sorts of abuse - on trail, off trail, in rain, cold, heat and wind. In the photo at right I am wearing the Terra Sport Edge Crew at the misty Col de Barrancq in the French Pyrenees.
The blended fabric is listed as 45 percent Tencel, 40 percent alpaca wool and 15 percent merino wool. Tencel was developed in Europe and is derived from wood pulp. It is the branded name of the fiber lyocell. By itself, Tencel has some interesting characteristics - it is soft to the skin, rapidly wicks water, is strong when wet or dry, and is resistant to bacteria growth (it is frequently used in medical dressings).
The fabric in the Indigenous Designs Terra Sport line is very soft on the skin; more comfortable than any merino wool midweight fabric I have tested. It feels as comfortable as alpaca wool, but has a tighter weave than any pure alpaca fabrics of similar weight I have seen. I was very intrigued and anxious to get it out into the field. My primary concern with the fabric - how would it stand up under rigorous use? How would it compare with merino wool in bad weather?